Anxiety, back pain, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, weight gain or loss. It may sound like a pharmaceutical ad, but it's actually a list of common symptoms associated with stress: uncomfortable when experienced on their own and potentially dangerous taken together.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and the truth is that stress is almost impossible to avoid these days. We live fast-paced lives under high-pressure circumstances. What’s more, stress has a major impact on the workplace: The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion a year in health care, sick days and lost productivity.
That’s more than the net worth of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates combined! And yet, according to the Global Wellness Institute, only 54% of U.S. employees have access to some form of wellness program at work.
So what can we do about this?
It’s better to prevent than vent
Whether you’re a C-suite executive, a newly appointed team leader or an individual contributor, the first step to reducing stress is to discover what’s actually stressing you and your teammates out. Venting around the water cooler or through G-chat can provide temporary relief, but it’s not really solving anything.
Here, a culture of communication and listening is key.
A few ideas for gathering feedback: talk to your manager, or if you’re a manager, ask individual employees during one-on-ones or team meetings, work with your HR team to create an anonymous survey or hold workshops during company events where everyone can share about what causes them stress and discuss how to reduce it.
But all of this will just be talk if you are not committed to treating it seriously. Remember, it’s critical to create a safe environment where people can really open up. If the people you work with don’t feel that you’re serious about helping, they are not going to trust you.
So above all, listen. Then take action.
That middle-of-the-night email you’re about to send? Don’t do it
Once you have identified the sources of stress, there are different ways to tackle the problem. Some are actually pretty simple.
For example, if you’re in the habit of bombarding your coworkers with after-hours emails, you can, well ... stop doing it. Respect people’s family and leisure time, and they’ll likely be more productive during work hours. (In fact, France and Germany have “right to disconnect” laws that ban after-hours emails entirely!)
When you take time off, really take time off — don’t keep checking your work email. Or actually attend that yoga class at lunch.
Beyond that, stress from conflicting expectations could be alleviated by clearly defining all team members’ roles and responsibilities. Issues caused by interpersonal relationships at work might be resolved by holding workshops on better communication or providing coaching on conflict resolution.
And then, if your team feels overworked, you could allocate budget to hire a new team member, reducing overall workload and stress.
Here at Indeed, we have a comprehensive wellness program and encourage our employees to use it. So consider offering yoga, tai chi or even meditation classes.
Open your mind to Open PTO
And then there are still more creative solutions. Something we have had a lot of success with is our Open PTO policy. What does it mean? Essentially, we put no cap on the number of vacation or sick days an employee can take off per year.
Why do we do this? First, Open PTO is not a free-for-all. Instead, it increases trust between employees and employers by demonstrating that employees are free to manage their time and meet productivity goals on their own schedule.
We give our employees the opportunity to recharge because we expect them to give their best — and they do. Our philosophy is that well-rested employees with a healthy work-life balance are happier employees who stay longer and do better work.
It can truly be a game changer, increasing productivity company-wide, improving employee morale and helping to attract and retain talent.
Let’s de-stress together
The important thing in all this? You have to mean it.
After all, even some of those companies that do recognize the importance of wellness and implement solutions such as yoga, tai chi or meditation classes may be failing to tackle the problem. Only 40% of employees say these programs actually improve their health and wellness (and nearly one-third don’t use them).
If a wellness class is offered but employees can’t step away from their desks long enough to participate, then it won’t do much good. So make sure you are actually empowering your employees to take part in the de-stressing activities you offer. The same goes for Open PTO.
It’s all about balance. Let’s not forget that a measure of stress is good and can be a motivator. But too much is a disaster. So this April, let’s all commit to doing at least one thing that moves us away from a workplace with the wrong kind of stress.
By embracing a measure of self-care and wellness, we can build better, healthier organizations where we can all give of our best — together.